Five things we learned from the 2021/2022 English Premier League season
While Manchester City and Liverpool battled and will continue to battle to be the best club in England, in Europe and on this planet, the once-mighty United can’t even claim to be the best team in Manchester and have had to depend on their derby rivals City to prevent Liverpool from taking their 20th league title.
WATCH: Manchester City crowned 2021/2022 EPL champions
After finishing second last season, ahead of Liverpool who the previous season had won their first title in three decades, United fans were jeering at supporters of the Anfield outfit, calling their rivals the worst defending champions ever, despite the series of horrifying injuries that Liverpool had to endure. The Reds managed a late surge last season to finish third for a Champions league place, a qualification that could culminate in the completion of United fans’ misery this season if they beat Real Madrid on Sunday morning (SGT) for their seventh top European title.
On the Premier League season’s final day, United were defeated 1-0 at Crystal Palace, but a comeback from Brighton to win 3-1 against West Ham meant the Red Devil’s finished sixth place for a Europa League spot. They finished the season with a record 58 points – their lowest in the Premier League – 35 and 34 points fewer than City and Liverpool respectively.
So, what went so horrendously wrong for United this season?
Perhaps Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have been allowed to complete the season. Would he have done better than sixth? We’ll never know but I suspect he would have kept United closer in points to Arsenal and Tottenham.
So, what was Ralf Rangnick’s appointment about?
What was the German’s brief when he stepped in as interim manager last November, shortly after United legend Solskjaer – and every Liverpool fan’s favourite United coach – was dismissed not long after United’s 0-5 massacre at the hands of their arch-rivals at Old Trafford?
Rangnick managed 11 wins in 29 games in charge, his winning rate of 37.93 percent way below that of the Norwegian he replaced, who managed to win 54.17 percent of the matches he was in charge of.
WATCH: Rangnick admits United need a complete rebuild
While it was clear from the start of the German’s appointment that he would be a stop-gap measure, his reputation as a coaching Yoda to Deutscher meisters Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool and Thomas Tuchel of Chelsea must have had United fans dreaming of a Merseyside-sized revival at Old Trafford, possibly with a Champions League trophy in tow.
But neither of that happened.
Nothing in United’s coffers were made available to Rangnick to strengthen his squad during the January transfer window, so I suspect Rangnick’s remit was to avoid relegation, experiment with the players, test their resolve, put them in impossible situations so that at the end of his stint he would have a dossier on each player which indicated who should stay and who should go.
As interim manager, he had no mandate to impose his vision on the club, and his only date was with the man who would eventually replace him. We now know that would be Erik ten Hag, but whether a date has been set for a proper handover remains uncertain, judging by the wishy-washy response to the question during his post-match interview following Manchester United’s last-day defeat away to Palace.
Meanwhile, the players appeared to lose interest – Bruno Fernandez, who was outstanding the previous season, lost his mojo; Paul Pogba’s symptoms of allergy to the United jersey worsened; Anthony Martial soldiered on like a soldier wanting to be court-martialled; and Harry Maguire started playing for their opponents.
It has got to the point where every United victory was regarded as a pleasant surprise for their fans while it felt like an upset for neutrals.
Rangnick’s reign as United manager has seemed like an unmitigated disaster. As he hands over the reins to Erik ten Hag, the first thing the Dutchman needs to do is to fix the broken spirit of the Red Devils, in the dressing room and on the field. Hopefully, Rangnick has gathered enough data to hand over for his successor to have some measure of success.
WATCH: Ten Hag promises to bring United back to the top
“Team spirit, yes this is also an issue,” said Rangnick. And getting new players to replace those sick and tired of playing for United. I’m still hoping that there was some science in the appointment and methods of Rangnick whose positive effects we’ll witness next season instead of another season of bad comedy that United fans are already sick and tired of.
David de Gea has been one of very few players worthy of the United jersey. His monumental efforts have made sure United’s goal difference stayed at zero (57 goals, 57 conceded) and not a deficit. The Spanish goalkeeper summed it up most eloquently when he declared: “The best thing that happened today is the season has finished.”
United need to step up their game, to go toe to toe with their two biggest rivals, preferably from next season. Already, City and Liverpool are pulling away from the rest of the field and making the English Premier League look like La Liga with two big teams and 18 certificates of participation. The current gap is already too big an insult for United fans. The Red Devils must take their rightful place in the title challenge, or at least, keep City and Liverpool honest.
WATCH: Ten Hag insists Ronaldo fits into his plans
Ten Hag has a striking bald pate that rivals that of Manchester City fund manager Josep Guardiola. Let’s hope the Dutchman possesses the ken to turn things around at Old Trafford and not just end up becoming an off-brand Pep.
Most tok kong team
Liverpool. They fell short of the Premier League title by a mere point and would have won the title if referees and opponents were as kind to them as they had been to Manchester City. (Which is also why, without that advantage, City have never won the Champions League.) Liverpool have won two domestic cup tournaments and are favourites against Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League. They’ve had an outstanding season, whether they eventually win that European title. Some of their most important players were also involved in the African Cup of Nations, but they continued to be involved in every tournament right until the bitter/sweet end.
Most CMI team
Manchester United. Unless there was some science to the appointment of Half Ragneck which we will know about only next season, the 13-time Premiership winners have been seriously horrible. United need new owners. Sell them to Middle-eastern oil. Or to Americans who actually care about, er, soccer.
Manager I want to be when I grow up
Pep Guardiola. Because he has access to so much money. Is he a good coach? I don’t care. I want to be where he is when I finally grow up, to never have to worry about money, to be able to buy a €100 million striker because I have the means and leave him on the bench for most of the season.
Manager who should rethink his life choices
Frank Lampard. I loved him as a player. But as a coach, hmmm. I think the last straw for me was his tactics against Liverpool. Gosh, does he think he’s Diego Simeone? Not nice. He has escaped relegation with Everton, so he should quit while he’s winning. Become a Sky Sports pundit like all the other useless retired football players.
Player I want to have babies with
That concept is incompatible with reality (because biology), but for the sake of discussion, well, Son Heung Min. Not because of his extraordinary physical beauty (he’s not even the best-looking Spurs player, which has to be Emerson Royal or Hugo Lloris), but because there are too few Asian players in the Premier League. And this one can score, too, so his offspring might finally see Spurs win a Premier League title.
Player I want to throw darts at
Harry Maguire. Mainly because I don’t like throwing darts at people. I just have to hand the darts to him – he’ll throw them at himself.